After around three hours of deliberation, the jury found David Wayne Rowland not guilty Thursday.
Rowland was indicted in December 2011 by a grand jury on a charge of reckless homicide in the death of Devin Smith.
Smith, 15, was hunting with his grandfather on Nov. 26, 2011, when he was shot around 5 p.m. His grandfather, Leonard Duffield, also of Tazewell, Tenn., was near his grandson at the time of the shooting, according to his testimony on Wednesday.
“This is the worst tragedy I’ve ever seen in my 31 years of experience,” said defense attorney David Stanifer after the verdict. “What the jury did was show they were very diligent in listening to the evidence. Under the law, they were very thorough and they applied the facts in this case to the law.”
“I’m just overwhelmed by the good verdict,” he said.
All of the parties were instructed to leave the courtroom separately due to the extreme emotional toll the trial took on everyone involved.
Neither Rowland nor Smith’s family members were available for comment.
“I am naturally disappointed in the verdict for Devin’s family,” said Assistant District Attorney Jared Effler, who prosecuted the case for the state, “but I nonetheless respect the jury’s decision.”
The state, represented by Effler and Assistant District Attorney Graham Wilson, rested its case Thursday morning after the testimony of Terri Arney, a special agent and forensic scientist for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab in Nashville.
After the state rested its case, defense attorney David Stanifer made a motion for a directed verdict of acquittal by Judge Shayne Sexton. A judge in a criminal case may direct a verdict of acquittal on the basis the prosecution has not proven its case, but the judge may not direct a verdict of guilty, since that would deprive the accused of the constitutional right to a jury trial.
“Mr. Rowland shot recklessly,” argued Effler. “He shot into brush without identifying his target.”
In support of his motion Stanifer said, “No witness stated that Mr. Rowland shot recklessly. There was nothing reckless about it.”
Sexton dismissed the motion, stating there was enough evidence to suggest the jury might find the defendant guilty.
The defense called several witnesses, including Larry Richardson, who owns the land where the death occurred. Richardson stated that no one had permission to hunt on his land except Rowland, but that there were no signs posted on his property stating that there was no trespassing allowed.
Capt. David Honeycutt of the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department was called as a witness for the defense. He stated that he was at the scene and then talked to Duffield at the hospital after the incident.
During his talk with Duffield, Honeycutt testified that Duffield said Smith was “doing what a deer would do with its antlers” at the time of the shooting.
“He was so traumatized it was heartbreaking,” Honeycutt testified.
Rowland took the stand in his own defense. The first question from his attorney was “Is there anything you’d like to say to the family of Devin Smith?”
“I prayed for them. That’s all I could do for them,” Rowland said.
Rowland testified that he thought he had the exclusive right to hunt on Richardson’s land, the wooded area in which the incident occurred. He had been in the woods for only about 10 to 15 minutes, he said, when he thought he saw a deer.
“I heard deer antlers rattle, I seen deer antlers through the brush and shot,” he said.
Rowland said he went over to where he’d shot and saw Smith lying on the ground.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
According to Rowland, Duffield was crying out to God for help.
“He said he dropped his gun and it went off,” Rowland said of Duffield. “He thought on the start he killed his grandson.”
Stanifer asked if Rowland was telling the same story he’d told at the time of the incident, to which Rowland replied “yes.”
“How has this affected you?” Stanifer asked.
“Ain’t nobody knows how bad every day. I wake up with it, I go to bed with it,” Rowland said, adding that he’s gotten through it “with the help of God.”
During cross-examination, Effler asked Rowland where the deer antlers were that he’d seen.
“I don’t know,” Rowland replied. “I shot when I seen antlers. I never seen no boy.”
After the defense rested, Stanifer once again made a motion for acquittal. Sexton ruled that there was a question for the jury to decide and dismissed the motion.
In his instructions to the jury, Sexton included a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide for the jurors to consider if they found Rowland was not guilty of reckless homicide.
After being given the instructions, both sides presented closing arguments.
“The Smith family deserves justice… I wish them the best. I’m sorry for what they’ve gone through,” said Stanifer. “Wayne Rowland will live with this the rest of his life… Let’s not create another tragedy here today.”
“Killing a deer was more important than being a safe hunter,” said Effler in his closing. “You have to make sure of your target.”
“Devin Smith deserved better than that,” he concluded.
The jury received the case and started deliberations at 1:44 p.m.
Shortly after, they returned a note to the judge asking for the definition of “criminal negligence.”
Later, the jury sent a note to the judge stating they had reached a verdict on the reckless homicide charge, but were deadlocked on the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide.
Sexton gave them more time to deliberate, and at approximately 5 p.m. they returned with a verdict of not guilty on both charges.
Smith, a student at Middlesboro High School, would have turned 16 on Nov. 30, 2011. He was a member of the Middlesboro High School JROTC program, and planned to join the U.S. Marine Corps upon graduation.
Smith was the son of Jane and T.J. Hurst of Middlesboro and Allen and Katherine Smith of New Tazewell, Tenn.
Claiborne Progress | Civitas Media, LLC